My visit in 2012
Back in 2010/11-ish it came to my attention that a small group of people who were keen on saving Undershaw, the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which is located in Hindhead, Surrey. The original crime was that developers planned to divide the mansion and turn it into three single dwellings. This means the house would be chopped up and lost amongst modern appliances.
Undershaw Preservation Trust challenged the developers and through a Judicial Review in May 2012 were able to stop Undershaws’ almost doomed fate.
With the house saved what happened next?
Nothing. Beyond stopping the redevelopment UPT had no other plans. There were no buyers in place for private or historical use of the house. There was quite literally no real plans whatsoever. Ideas, yes. Lots and lots of ‘it could be a museum, it could be this, it could be that.’ The museum idea was toyed with for some time, and I was a member of that group which made it clear how much work was in store and how disappointing it was UPT had nothing in place after several years of legal battles. However, at the end of the day the best option came about when a local school in Hindhead called Stepping Stones purchased Undershaw.
There was, for a brief moment in history, harmony between UPT and Stepping Stones as the two were working hand in hand. Stepping Stones revealed their plans on how they would redevelop Undersahw making them incredibly public while also working with UPT to make sure they, too, were happy; a courtesy owed not to them but one generously made because Stepping Stones were/are keen to ensure fans of Conan Doyle that they are handling the house with respect and because they wish to invite them to visit.
Restoration efforts begin early 2015
What happened next was a complete and utter heartbreak. UPT became upset over a couple of minor issues with Undershaw’s restoration. Namely a water well and Doyle’s stables. Stepping Stones planned to turn the stables, a building with a disgusting security office built onto it from long ago, into housing accommodation for children who need to live on campus. And the well would also need to go. This became difficult for UPT. So sadly over a derelict well and a very shabby stable UPT cut ties with Stepping Stones and began their next legal battle. Now UPT are headed back for another Judicial Review which is terribly disappointing.
I suppose what hasn’t been taken into account by UPT is that fact that with any restoration – whether single dwelling or museum – changes of some kind would happen. It’s inevitable. Stepping Stones are going over and beyond to restore the house to get it to look as it did in Doyle’s day. They will turn Doyle’s office back to the way he had it and as much as possible the fixtures throughout the house: walls/floors/decorations/windows/what have you are being restored where possible. Obviously for health and safety reasons some modern upgrades will have to be made – but anyone would (or should) know this would happen with any restoration. Not only that the extension planned for Undershaw will sit lower than the actual house and will mostly be glass to make a clear distinction what is Undershaw and what is extension. Something UPT have falsely said will dwarf Undershaw.
I find myself struggling to support a group that so quickly turned their back on such a worthy cause. Especially over a well and a bit of wood. I am grateful for the hard work UPT did in stopping Undershaw’s redevelopment into townhouses. I’m glad I was apart of the voices that stood up for the house. Without their hard work Stepping Stones would not have been able come and actually restore Undershaw – something UPT had no plans to do. Had it not been for Stepping Stones Undershaw would continue to fall into decay and further ruin. Alternatively a private buyer might have come, but one has to be daft to believe that any such buyer would restore the house to it’s Victorian setting and not make it into a modern mansion; considering it’s likely cheaper to gut the place than to restore it.
Now with another Judicial Review ahead it seems all UPT are concerned with is ensuring whoever owns Undershaw restores it their way, to which I’d suggest they should have bought it if they are truly that bothered. But no effort of any kind has been made. Undershaw should not be treated like a House of Cards. Why should the house fall apart when a school supported by the Conan Doyle Estate and his relatives are working to save it? Arthur himself would likely be glad to see the house turned into a school as he used Undershaw for educational purposes when he lived there.
You can see Stepping Stones’ plans here
Have you followed the Undershaw Saga? What do you think of it all? Comment and share your thoughts below.